As ridiculous as they are, I wonder if I’d prefer such crude modifications to Singapore’s slick surgical cuts. At least, when you see a black bar striking out genitalia in a Judd Apatow comedy or a blurred bag of weed on a cop show, you know what’s behind the mystery door. The scalpel used to slice out scenes from my television shows in Singapore is more vicious in its precision. It was the same tool that empowered my teacher to remove the stories from my bag and never return them to me or explain why they were taken in the first place.
Would I be satisfied if Jane Fonda’s vibrator was shown but pixelated, or if Asia Kate Dillon’s voice was muted as she questioned gender norms? Of course not. But at least I’d know what I was missing. The censorship I’ve grown up with is more insidious, and unsettling. In 1992, it made a girl bury her love for stories in a secret, shame-filled space for years before she decided to write again. In 2017, it leaves a woman puzzled as the credits roll before she realizes that there are still things she is not supposed to know.
Sand covers so much of the earth’s surface that shipping it across borders—even uncontested ones—seems extreme. But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world, it’s “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.”
Sand is the world’s most widely consumed natural resource, after water. What will happen when we run out of it?
When the study went public, about six months later, some of Bem’s colleagues guessed it was a hoax. Other scholars, those who believed in ESP—theirs is a small but fervent field of study—saw his paper as validation of their work and a chance for mainstream credibility.
But for most observers, at least the mainstream ones, the paper posed a very difficult dilemma. It was both methodologically sound and logically insane. Daryl Bem had seemed to prove that time can flow in two directions—that ESP is real. If you bought into those results, you’d be admitting that much of what you understood about the universe was wrong. If you rejected them, you’d be admitting something almost as momentous: that the standard methods of psychology cannot be trusted, and that much of what gets published in the field—and thus, much of what we think we understand about the mind—could be total bunk.
Fifty years after the book’s publication, it may be tempting to believe its success was as inevitable as the fate of the Buendía family at the story’s center. Over the course of a century, their town of Macondo was the scene of natural catastrophes, civil wars, and magical events; it was ultimately destroyed after the last Buendía was born with a pig’s tail, as prophesied by a manuscript that generations of Buendías tried to decipher. But in the 1960s, One Hundred Years of Solitude was not immediately recognized as the Bible of the style now known as magical realism, which presents fantastic events as mundane situations. Nor did critics agree that the story was really groundbreaking. To fully appreciate the novel’s longevity, artistry, and global resonance, it is essential to examine the unlikely confluence of factors that helped it overcome a difficult publishing climate and the author’s relative anonymity at the time.
We’re not sure the first time he called. Nor are we sure who first answered the bar’s wall-mounted pay phone that day and heard his voice. It could’ve been a customer seated at the window table beside the phone; could’ve been the front-room waiter, hustling to reach the receiver and shout “McSorley’s!” to whomever was on the other end of the line. We’re pretty sure that the call would have come on a Sunday, because once we recognized the pattern, it seemed that he always rang at the end of the weekend. We’re positive what he said, because it’s been the same opening line now, week after week, for about twenty years: “Your enema is ready.”